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Episodes

La Soufriere

Volcanoes are really big and really dangerous! Right now, one volcano in a big chain of volcanoes in the Caribbean is erupting. It’s called La Soufriere de Saint Vincent. We talked to Charlie Mandeville of the US Geological Survey’s Volcano Hazards Program about La Soufriere, and about volcanoes more generally.

Guest bio: Charlie Mandeville

Charles Mandeville is the Program Coordinator for the USGS Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) at USGS Headquarters in Reston, Virginia. He has been Program Coordinator for the Volcano Hazards Program since Sept. 2012. He was trained as a physical volcanologist and geochemist and has conducted research at the following volcanoes in his career, including Krakatau, and Galunggung in Indonesia, Mt. St. Helens in Washington, Crater Lake in Oregon and Augustine volcano in Alaska.  His Ph.D. research focused on all aspects of the Krakatau 1883 eruption in Indonesia and involved the study of both onshore and offshore submarine samples from that eruption in order to characterize the erupted material and to delineate the likely cause of lethal tsunamis generated during the eruption that resulted in over 36,000 fatalities. 

He now manages the USGS’ s Volcano Hazards Program (VHP) that operates volcano observatories in Hawaii, Alaska, Cascadia, California and Yellowstone, and the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (in partnership with the US Agency for International Development), and supporting research and assistance projects. He develops the program’s science portfolio and capabilities and strategies and corresponding budget plans. He coordinates USGS volcano monitoring with the efforts of cooperative university and state geological survey partners. He represents the USGS VHP on interagency and international committees and meetings and advocates the importance of national volcano monitoring to members of Congress.

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Episodes

Minecraft

Today we’re talking about a BIG GAME–it’s big because you can build big things in it, and it’s big because a huge number of people play it. It’s Minecraft! Guided by our expert, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, we explore why Minecraft is so cool, and how big it really is. Plus we got some help from you, our listeners! (Even cooler: we’ve got actual Minecraft music, from C418. Thanks, C418!)

Guest bio: Anne Ladyem McDivitt

Anne Ladyem McDivitt is an Assistant Professor and the Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Alabama. She is the author of the first book in De Gruyter’s Video Games and the Humanities series, Hot Tubs and Pac-Man: Gender and the Early Video Game Industry in the United States. Her research focuses on the history of video games, including the video game industry and media, with a particular interest in gender. You can follow her at anneladyem.com or on Twitter @anneladyem.

Transcript

Maggie: I have a surprise for you.

Abby: Hey, I love surprises. What is it?

Maggie: Well, it’s pretty fun to record our podcast here in your closet. But I always feel sorry for you when you have to take apart all our equipment in order to put the laundry baskets back in. So I built you a podcast studio.

Abby: What? Where? what part of our house did you demolish in order to build it?

Maggie: Well, I built it in Minecraft.

Abby: Okay, well, I’m not totally sure that we’re going to be able to move our recording space into Minecraft, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Maggie: Plus Minecraft is the topic for today’s episode of

Maggie and Abby: Big if True,

Maggie: where I, Maggie,

Abby: and I, Abby,

Maggie: explore the truth about big things.

Abby: You know, for most of our episodes, even though I wouldn’t call myself the expert, I think I have a little bit more knowledge than you most of the time about our topics, wouldn’t you agree?

Maggie: Probably.

Abby: But not this time. You are definitely the expert here. So why don’t you ask the quiz question today.

Maggie: Okay, listeners, here’s your quiz question to test your knowledge. Which computer programming language can you learn by playing Minecraft?

Abby: A. Go, which is a real programming language. B. C++, C. Python, or D. JavaScript.

Maggie: We’ll tell you the answer near the end of the show. Minecraft is one of the biggest games on the planet right now. If you don’t play it, you almost definitely know someone who does. Our guest today knows about Minecraft in two ways. She plays it and she studies video games.

Anne Ladyem McDivitt: My name is Anne Ladyem McDivitt. I’m a video game historian.

Maggie: What is Minecraft?

McDivitt: Minecraft is a sandbox video game. You’re able to collect materials you can c raft, you can build structures. You might wonder what a sandbox video game is. And that’s a freeform type of game where you have creativity in terms of accomplishing the goals, you don’t really have a set goal.

Sandbox: a video game or part of a video game in which the player is not constrained to achieving specific goals and has a large degree of freedom to explore, interact with, or modify the game environment

Merriam Webster

McDivitt: There’s also two main modes, you have the creative mode, where enemies don’t attack you, you have unlimited resources, and you can build whatever you want. And then there’s survival where you have to fight enemies while you’re obtaining the resources you need, like food or the materials to build a house for your character. There are a lot of blocks in Minecraft. I think of Minecraft as a digital version of Legos, honestly; it’s got the same idea of you can do whatever you want with it as long as you have the pieces to do it. And sometimes you really have to be creative to make those pieces work.

mountain with waterfalls, built in Minecraft
Image by Csar-Fotografie from Pixabay

Maggie: Who made Minecraft?

McDivitt: So the development company that made Minecraft is Mojang [Mo-yang], or you can pronounce it Mojang [Mo-jang], if you’d like. There are two different pronunciations for it, either are accepted by the company, so you can choose whichever. And it’s based out of Stockholm, Sweden.

Maggie: When was it created?

McDivitt: So the official release of Minecraft it was in 2011. But development actually started in 2009. And it’s been consistently updated since its release in 2011.

Maggie: Are there other games like Minecraft that existed before Minecraft?

McDivitt: So there are several games that were very similar. You have SimCity which was in 1989. It was a city building simulation, you had to design and build and run a city, including trying to make sure that you don’t have environmental disasters.

Play SimCity (1989) here on the Internet Archive!

And another creative sandbox game–it’s very popular even now–is the Sims, which came out originally in 2000. And you create fictional people you build their houses and you’ve run their lives.

Maggie: How many people play Minecraft?

McDivitt: According to Mojang, as of May 2020, over 200 million copies of Minecraft have been sold and there are 126 million active monthly players of Minecraft.

Maggie: Why is Minecraft so popular?

McDivitt: I think a lot of what makes Minecraft popular is the ease of playing: the personalized experience and its accessibility. Minecraft is a pretty easy game to pick up and play; you can have whatever experience you’re looking for when you play it. You don’t really have to have something set in mind. If you want to build, you can just go into creative mode and build whatever you like. If you want to have a tougher gameplay experience, you have different difficulty levels in survival mode. So it’s a unique experience for everybody who plays it. And it makes you connect to the environment that you’re building. And no one world is ever going to be the same, which is fantastic. So the game lets you do whatever you want. And I think that contributes to the popularity. It’s also it’s available on basically every platform so it’s accessible to a broader audience, and you can play with your friends.

Abby: To demonstrate why Minecraft is so popular, we decided to ask you, our listeners. So here’s what some of you had to say about why you like Minecraft.

Aiden: Hi, I’m Aiden, and I am seven years old and I like Minecraft because I can play with it. I really like it–in fact, I love it. I really like that I can play it because it lets me to encode my inspiration, in creative and survival. I really like creative more but sometimes I play survival.

Carson and Ben: Hi, I’m Carson. And I’m Ben. We like to play Minecraft. I like to survive and create. I like to fight mobs and build. We like to join each other by playing on our own devices and friending each other. We also, we can make a great team. We also like to play in creative, you can get any block. Creative is where we let our imagination roam. The enderdragon is the final boss, it is very hard to beat. We beat it multiple times though, bye!

Katherine: Hi, my name is Katherine. I’m 15 years old and I’m from Northeast Philadelphia. I like playing Minecraft because I can recreate places from real life or the fantasy stories I’ve written. In the game I can build mansions, secret hideouts, or entire villages for my stories and feel like I’m in the world that I wrote about. This helps me to picture exactly what the setting looks like. On multiplayer, my friends can explore what I’ve created and help with construction. It’s a great way to connect with them and share the joy of the game.

Maggie: And I like playing Minecraft because it’s really fun and there are no limits. I built this cool house with tons of water features and different rooms.

Village, built in Minecraft
Image by BimIce from Pixabay

Abby: But Minecraft isn’t all fun and games, you could actually learn some surprising skills while you’re being creative.

McDivitt: One thing that’s really interesting about Minecraft is that with different mods, it can actually teach people how to do basic Python coding, which you wouldn’t expect with Minecraft, but it’s definitely a thing that you can do. One of the first things that they teach you is how to create a loop where you just summon an infinite amount of chickens on top of your character, which can get messy very quickly. Or you can you can code in a little buddy who will actually go and pick up resources for you. So there’s a lot you can do with the the mods and the coding.

Abby: Hey, there’s the answer to our quiz question. You can learn some Python if you use some of the Minecraft Mods. I have a feeling that we don’t need to tell you to go try out Minecraft. So here’s a special challenge for you.

Maggie: If you’ve seen our podcast logo, you know that there are big words–Big If True–and a mountain range. So we challenge you to try to build the Big If True logo on Minecraft. Screenshot and send it to us at bigiftrue@abbymullen.org. And we’ll send you a sticker.

Abby: And that’s our show for today. If you love playing Minecraft, we’d love it if you share this episode with your friends. And join us next time for another episode of

Maggie and Abby: Big if True.

Maggie: Big if True is produced by me, Maggie, and my mom, Abby. Special thanks to our expert guest Anne Ladyem McDivitt for talking to us about Minecraft. Also, thanks to our listeners who sent us their thoughts about why Minecraft is so cool. Our theme music is by Andrew Cote. This episode we’re also using music by C418 from the Minecraft soundtrack and music by Jerry Martin from the Sims. If you want to play a version of the Sims from 1989, check out our show notes for a link. And thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.